Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Reading Mentor #2: Grandma Verry and Francis

My next two reading mentors are teachers of a good skill: knowing what to read next.  Francis (pictured below as a baby and avid reader of the Maisy books) and my Grandma Mary Verry, both reminded me to be a reader who hooks into a series.

Two of my favorite readers: Grandma Verry and Francis, October 2004.

My favorite story about my Grandma as a reader was when she found a new book series, "The Cat Who" series by Lilian Jackson Braun. She found this book series when she was struggling with Myasthenia Gravis, and I love that she was so excited about finding it and also that she chose to use some of her very finite energy for reading. I hope I continue to find things to read that bring me joy throughout my life like my Grandma.

Francis must be following in Grandma Verry's footsteps.  He has relied on series books to guide him as a reader this past year: Henry and Mudge, Horrible Harry, A to Z Mysteries, Secrets of Droon, Star Wars Graphic Novels, Dragon Slayer's Academy, Captain Underpants, Captain Fact, Encyclopedia Brown... Fran reads about 10 books into a series and then moves onto something new. As someone who finishes a series- this is crazy to me.  But also, another lesson from a reader: move on when you've had enough.

Who would have thought looking at them when they met that they would remind me that I can hook into a series so I always have a book on deck.

And now, I wait for this next book to become available to be my book on deck!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

March is Writing Month? or Bird-by-Bird: Advice for Writing and Life

Fran was really excited about studying biographies at school. He picked Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman pilot, (over LeBron James) for his project. The first thing I did was grab him some books from the library. He did what any respectable biographer would do, he read them, and then he talked about them.

So a few days later, he brings home his biography from school... It was really accurate, it had solid mechanics, and it was very...well, concise. Since more than one session had been allowed for writing and he had more to say about the topic, I thought perhaps it needed to be a little longer. Like many 3rd graders, it seemed like he just needed some help figuring out how to use structure to tell it long.

A lot of 3rd graders tell the whole thing in a paragraph. Or write a really long, well-crafted beginning and then get tired and rush the rest. But each part needs to be developed, and this is where structure comes in.

So I did it. I told Francis the old "bird-by-bird strategy" from the famous grown-up writer Anne LaMott. Basically, it goes like this: her brother left a huge project on birds until the day before it was due. Her father, also a writer, remained calm. He got her brother some bird books from the library, sat at the kitchen table with him, and told her brother to relax-- just take it bird-by-bird. (Anne tells it better.)

Just take it bird-by-bird.

Such simple advice. I've found that most tasks, both in writing and in life, seem so much more manageable if taken bird-by-bird. So that's what we did: Fran set up a timeline and figured out his sections. We labeled his draft with each "part on a page" and he worked bird-by-bird in a few short work sessions to finish it.

Now he had used this "timeline and each part gets a page draft" strategy before with both his personal narrative story and his fiction story this year, but sometimes you just need someone to remind you to just take it bird-by-bird.

Yesterday we were driving in the van, chit-chatting about how his piece had changed. I hoped I was hearing his words, not the words he thinks I want him to say about his process. Every writing teacher worries (sometimes) that a teaching point was too heavy-handed, that the teacher, not the student owns the strategy or craft applied, or that students just say what they think we want to hear so we'll leave them alone.

But Francis reminded me that this work was now his own by closing our conversation by saying, "Well, Mom. Now I know I can write long if I just do what that famous writer's brother did... just take it bird-by-bird."

Monday, March 4, 2013

My Pappap (Reading Mentor #1)

It might surprise you to hear that my Pappap was a reading mentor to me. My Pap was brilliant-- a flexible problem- solver-- but he did not have an opportunity for formal schooling after middle school. He worked in the coal mines, and also became skilled as a naturalist and an electrician. He was the busiest retired guy I ever met.

But the thing I will always remember is how much Pap loved a good mystery- he read everything from Ellery Queen to Encyclopedia Brown! He loved reading trivia. He also read the morning and afternoon paper- he did word puzzles, logic puzzles, number puzzles. He loved the comics.

When I was little, the Field Guides Pap often read seemed boring to me. But his love of nature helped him find a study topic that interested him. He wanted to know more about the animals in the woods, so he read about them. He knew about animals, trees, and how to find delicious berries- because he read about them and then he experienced them.

People who knew my Pap might think of tools and machines when they think of him, and I do, too. (I also remember drilling a hole in his workshop floor while he helped me with my Girl Scout Woodworker badge!)  I will always remember his humor, his generosity, and especially his reading. Pappap taught me that readers find books about what they want to know about it the world- and then read them! I used to think that being a reader was just reading high-brow canons, but Pap taught me that readers alone choose the reading that is important to them.

My Pappap

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Claude's Current Favorite

Claude is currently gaga over Marisabina Russo books. I had the privilege of hosting her (back in the day) at my school in NY for an author visit- and she is simply marvelous, both in person and in print. I love her books for little ones, like The Big Brown Box and also her books for older children, like I Will Come Back for You.

My favorite birthday gift for a toddler is The Line Up Book; like all of Marisabina's book, she really understands kids, their feelings, and positive family dynamics.  I love using her books with young writers- especially because she is an author/illustrator, like my students are.  Her nice mix of dialogue, details with pictures and words, and story shape and structure are just divine.

Claudia has fallen in love with Hannah and all her stories. Her favorite right now is The Trouble with Baby. Claude was drawn to the title; she's always looking for trouble. I can only imagine the seeds Marisabina's books are planting for Claudia's own writing in Writing Workshop in Kindergarten next year!

Check out Marisabina's books at your local bookseller and from your library. I know we have plans: a big stack of her bunny books on hold at AADL and some out-of-printers coming from Amazon.

Little Miss Trouble reading The Trouble with Baby.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Yearly Book Goal

So I have heard about some crazy goals of readers, like reading 365 books in a year, reading a  book each day in the summer... And in Jnauary, I was thinking that I had a bum year reading and didn't read as much as I thought I should.

And then I looked over my reading log, and I saw that I read about 52 books that I could remember! I felt so busy, so I was surprised that I still had made time for my own reading life:

52 books that I could remember!

The Thirteenth Tale
The Book Thief (loved this!)
Prairie Tale
Confessions of a Prairie Bitch (also read The Wilder Life, but in 2011)
Hunger Games Series 1-3
City of Thieves
The Marriage Plot
Vision Book (title?)
And Then There Were None
The Hound of the Baskervilles
Magnolia Wednesdays
Regatta Mystery
The Reliable Wife

Professional Books:
Picture This: How Pictures Work -Molly Bang
Show Me A Story: Why Picturebooks Matter
Beyond Leveled Text
When Readers Struggle
2nd garde Calkins
Teach Like a Champion (blech!)
The Fluent Reader
Teaching Children who Find Reading Difficult
Choice Words

Kid Books:
Lemony Snicket #5
A- Z Mysteries A-E, H
Droon Series 1-6
Stone Fox
Incorrigible Children-3
The Mighty MIss Malone
Tales of 4th grade Nothing
Time War Trio 1-3
and more picturebooks than anyone would care to count

Not too shabby! I was surprised by how many I had read. It's interesting to see how professional reading and "kid" reading takes a big chunk of time.

Favorite thing from 2012? Schooled and The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place. Kiddie Lit rocks my world!

Goal for 2013? To keep a better log and to update the blog more with my reading. Also, use my reading projects to inform my writing projects- and carry them through. I am pretty sure I'll hit 52 in 2013. I am working on book #16....

All this really validate how useful book logs can be, both for a reader in the "real world" and in the classroom.  Such a handy list to keep! Try it yourself and let me know how it goes.

Friday, March 1, 2013

March Is Reading Month 2013: Reading Mentors

I have been compiling a list of reading mentors. These reading mentors have shaped who I am as a reader, a writer, a teacher,  a person, or all of these things... I plan on profiling them this month at TRWH. I hope that I can be a reading mentor to people in my life (and in my classroom) this year for March is Reading Month and beyond.

Right now- grab a scrap of paper.
Write down people who shaped you as a reader.
A friend who loaned you a book?
A teacher who elevated your thinking?
A librarian whose read-aloud made your heart fill?
An aunt who delivered the perfect book whenever you needed it?

What did you learn about yourself-or about other readers- from your reading mentors?